FDA Washes the Dirt from Antibacterial Soaps

By Carl Engelking
Sep 3, 2016 1:08 AMNov 20, 2019 2:03 AM


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(Credit: Alexander Raths/Shutterstock) It’s official; store shelves will be scrubbed clean of antibacterial hand and body soaps that contain certain ingredients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday issued a final ruling that bans soaps that contain one, or a combination of, 19 specific ingredients — triclosan and triclocarbon are common — because there’s no scientific evidence that they prevent the spread of germs. In fact, these soaps might do more harm than good. In 2013, the FDA required manufacturers of these products to prove antibacterial soaps were safe and more effective than traditional soap. They couldn’t do it. On the other hand, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy demonstrated that antibacterial soaps are no better at killing bacteria than old-fashioned soap. But the case for antibacterial soaps falls apart even more. There’s growing concern that overuse of triclosan, the biocide in hand soap, leads to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, disrupts hormones in the body and may contribute to certain types of cancer. In 2014, for example, scientists found that long-term exposure to triclosan may cause mice to develop liver cancer. “Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research in a statement Friday. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.” The FDA’s ban does not apply to antibacterial products used in hospitals, or consumer hand sanitizers and wipes. Many companies have already replaced triclosan with other chemicals, such as benzalkonium chloridebenzethonium chloride or chloroxylenol (PCMX). Soap manufacturers now have a year to provide more data on the safety and effectiveness of these chemicals. Washing your hands, of course, is still of utmost importance. But to keep your germs to yourself, plain old soap and water will do the trick.

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